High School Sports

North Johnston boys basketball holds off Princeton Bulldogs

Princeton’s Adrian Whack (15) drives the lane between North Johnston's Octavius Lackey (30) and D'andre Etheridge (11). Coverage from the boys and girls basketball games between the Bulldogs of Princeton High School and the Panthers of North Johnston High School played in Princeton, N.C. on Friday, December 11, 2015. The North Johnston boys won 54-50.
Princeton’s Adrian Whack (15) drives the lane between North Johnston's Octavius Lackey (30) and D'andre Etheridge (11). Coverage from the boys and girls basketball games between the Bulldogs of Princeton High School and the Panthers of North Johnston High School played in Princeton, N.C. on Friday, December 11, 2015. The North Johnston boys won 54-50. newsobserver.com

North Johnston rallied from a second-half deficit then held off rival Princeton in the final minute to post a 54-50 victory Friday night.

North Johnston (5-4) completed a two-game season sweep of winless Princeton (0-6).

Down by seven points early in the fourth quarter, North Johnston went on a 13-2 run to take a 46-42 lead and was up by eight points at 52-44 when things got interesting.

North Johnston pulled its starters but had to put them back into the game after Princeton climbed back within 52-50 on a 3-point play by Demarcus Ellis with 20 seconds remaining.

North’s Adam Tucker scored with 15 seconds left and Princeton missed at its end for the final 54-50 margin.

“It was gamble,” North Johnston coach Chris Batten said of taking his starters out. “Eight points was not that big a lead. I don’t think I have any true reserves. I trusted them to come in and close out the game. They just made a couple of mistakes. … I had already told the first five to be ready if we needed them.”

The Panthers had trouble against Princeton’s 2-3 zone defense in the first half, but were more effective in the second half.

“We came in kind of slow against their zone,” Batten said. “We knew they were going to sit in a 2-3. … We had a hard time adjusting. In the second half, we were able to create some turnovers and get some easy baskets and that gave us a chance to pull ahead and separate.”

Princeton coach Jeff Davis was pleased with his team’s effort but said two pivotal stretches hurt the Bulldogs against the rival Panthers.

“We played better,” Davis said. “We had been struggling but we looked better as a team tonight. The last two or three minutes of the first half we fell apart. We had 12 turnovers but they were right in a bunch at the end of the first half and in the fourth quarter.

“We had opportunities but we just didn’t quite get it done. I hate it for the seniors to lose to them twice. It’s an important game to the entire school.”

Between the girls and boys games, Princeton’s new gymnasium was dedicated as the Deacon Jones Gymnasium in honor of the late Kenneth “Deacon” Jones, a 1958 graduate of Princeton who played both baseball and basketball for the Bulldogs and went on to become a successful business owner and community leader.

Turning point

North Johnston took charge with a fourth-quarter spurt. Down 40-33 with seven minutes left in the game, the Panthers went on a 13-2 run to go up 46-42. They expanded the margin to eight points at 52-44 with a minute left and held on for the victory.

They said it

“I tried not to put too much emphasis on the rivalry game but growing up in the area I know what it means to the kids,” North Johnston coach Chris Batten said. “For the kids, you are happy for them to sweep a rivalry game like that.”

Three who mattered

North Johnston’s Adam Tucker: The junior guard-forward had a team-high 12 points and made a clinching basket with 15 seconds left that put the Panthers back up by four at 54-50 after Princeton had pulled within two points.

North Johnston’s Holden Hales: The junior center had 10 points and went 6-for-6 at the free throw line in the final quarter.

Princeton’s Demarcus Ellis: The senior guard had a game-high 15 points for the Bulldogs.

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